A Concept Americans Could Never Fathom (But Hopefully Will Consider)

When we were told that we would be volunteering with Foodsharing Copenhagen, I was excited because I had never heard of anything like it. Before we arrived in Copenhagen, our professor had told us that the organization takes vans to get food that would have been thrown out. The volunteers then lay it out on tables and give it away to those who wait in line for it. Going into volunteering with them, I had expected this straightforward explanation, but there ended up being a lot more to it. When we arrived on our first volunteer day, it was calm when Luke, one of the board members, gave us an overview of food sharing before our shift started. Once we got inside, it took a little while for everything to get started because the organization had recently been told they need to meet food and health requirements, which caused come chaos since it changed how they functioned. This had visibly thrown a wrench in their system because those who had volunteered there regularly were confused by all the new requirements, such as cleaning all the crates regularly, cleaning the tables, and throwing away any food that touched the ground and did not have a peel. I think the first week we volunteered may have just been one of their off weeks since there were new changes, but the other weeks still had their challenges as well.

Some of the food set out at our second food sharing event

This lack of organization surprised me because generally people who volunteer places in the U.S. regularly, know exactly what to do and know what position they will be in throughout it, but many of them did not. I think their volunteers also do not come to Foodsharing Copenhagen consistently every week and the new regulations made the process more difficult, so those could be some reasons for them not being as organized currently. The first shift was very interesting to experience since it was like nothing I had ever done, and it blew my mind that all the food they brought in three trucks was only 10 percent of the food that would be wasted. It was also interesting that people within a Copenhagen community decided to create this type of food sharing event because in America this type of thing would be sanctioned by the U.S. government.

While volunteering, I think sometimes it was hard for me to think about all the benefits of the experience because I initially focused on everything I noticed as different from volunteering in America. One of the incredible benefits is that when volunteering, I met people from Prague, England, France, and many other countries. It was so interesting to see so many people from different parts of Europe coming together for the common goal of reducing food waste and increasing sustainability. This helped me in accomplishing a personal goal of meeting people from other countries and having conversations about where we both live. I also really enjoyed handing out the food at the second shift because you got to see all the food dwindle, and people appeared to be grateful for receiving whatever was available. One of the difficulties I had with volunteering in Denmark is that sometimes the board members who volunteered weekly would get “breaks” which would be just standing around and not do anything for an extended amount of time. This bothered me because every organization I have volunteered for in America had the leaders working hard the whole time and delegating roles. I believe this is where our cultures may differ in volunteering because in the U.S. people are very concerned about getting things done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and in Denmark, it was a little more relaxed. I think it was also difficult being an outsider because you did not get breaks and communication with some of the other volunteers or people who came to get food was difficult. This was also challenging because if they had a hard time speaking English, and we did not know their language, we had to think of different ways to explain certain things or use gestures. Although I had certain obstacles, it was fun to try to overcome them, and I learned to adjust to these new situations.

When I first heard about Foodsharing Copenhagen, I thought that it is an amazing concept because here you do not have to prove that you are low-income, and anyone can come that wants to reduce food waste. In the U.S. you would have to have some sort of form that indicated you do not make a lot of money and deserve to get free food because the notion is not to reduce food waste but to help those in need. I think once I participated in the organization, my view did not change because it proved to be an interesting idea to help waste less food. At this pace, I think it does not have the potential to eliminate food waste since they only pick up 10 percent of the food that will be thrown away, but it is still beneficial to allow people to get free food that would otherwise be thrown out. This experience changed my idea of food waste and food justice because now I am more conscious about the foods I buy and what I throw out, and you do not always need to buy the prettiest pieces of food because the ugly ones can still be edible. Selina Juul, a food waste advocate, explained that food waste is a problem world-wide because in places like America, it is easy to do, and no one thinks anything of it since there is so much food available. Since volunteering in Foodsharing Copenhagen, I have been more careful about what I buy because I watched those who came to get food strategically take only what they needed and would use. Based on what I have seen with those who volunteer for Foodsharing Copenhagen, I believe Americans have a lot to learn about being more sustainable with their eating habits.

The food sharing idea would be something I would like to bring home because in the U.S. food waste and food insecurity is a huge problem. Michael Pollan explained in his article that Americans have never had to think about the effect their wasting of food has on the planet because they spend less on it, cook less, and eat more processed food. However, I think this reducing food waste in this way would be difficult to bring home since Americans have the mentality that only those who are food insecure should be able to get free food. I think it would be difficult for people to understand that it is more about reducing food waste than helping those who cannot afford food. When I go back home, I think I am going to make those around me more aware of how much they buy and throw out because many people buy more than what is needed. This volunteering experience has truly enhanced my adventures in Denmark because food sharing is something I may never be able to get to do again in America, but it also gives me the opportunity to bring ideas from it home.

Shelby, me, Brittany, Rachel, Grace, and Emilia at our second Foodsharing Copenhagen event

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